Getting Rancid, Getting Crazy

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A friend of mine pointed me to this column by Bill Kristol. I don’t get much chance to read the Standard. I would have missed this otherwise. It is an amazing, short piece of writing for its emotional heat, its historical grandiosity and what can only be called its denigrating, fulminating rage toward Barack Obama, the President of the United States. Kristol contrasts Obama, as a lifelong loafer, to Netanyahu, a lifelong warrior. (Netanyahu did serve in one of Israel’s most elite commando units. But unlike Rabin, Sharon, Barak, Mofaz et al., he is a career politician, not a career soldier.) “As a young man, he was fighting terror while Barack Obama was fighting boredom. As an adult, while Obama was community-organizing his way to the presidency, Netanyahu was a participant in the civilizational struggle in which both Israel and the United States, as leaders of the West, are engaged.”

As you would expect, the essay is laced with references and culminates with grand reference to late 30s British appeasement. But with a difference. The appeasement narrative is not about evil men. It’s about blindness to evil, a mix of cowardice and wishful thinking. The role carved out here for Obama is much closer to just evil. In Kristol’s telling, Obama thinks the creation of Israel was wrong and country’s current inhabitants are simply people who stand in the way of his designs.

To make this whole arrangement work, Kristol is obliged to cast the better part of the American Jewish community as what we might call Obama appeasers. “Major elements of the American Jewish community seem more committed to staying on good terms with Obama than to forthrightly defending Israel.”

He ends with a call for Netanyahu to use his speech to “Speak for the West” since Obama will not.

So the American President with the striking complexion and the Arabic name does not speak for “the West” but the Prime Minister of Israel, a country of “the East”, does speak for “the West.” Indeed, oddly enough, all the heads of state of Europe also fail to speak for the West. I suspect there are some unlovely sentiments lurking behind this contrast.

But let me touch on another point, one that seems central to this fusillade. What makes Netanyahu Netanyahu (not the one who is and alas looks likely to remain the Prime Minister of Israel but the American media figure) is this ability to serve as the collective id of a certain strain of hard-right, manichean aggression within American conservatism that can only feel in balance if every moment of our lives is actually a world historical moment.

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